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Dialogue more productive than acrimonious debate

House of Assembly (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

It’s too little. It’s too much. Or it’s never enough. Or it’s never quite right. Call it the Goldilocks principle of government, folks — and, even worse, when stuck between a rock and hard place, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Covid-19, the lockdowns, shelter-in-place, the restrictions, alphabet shopping, maintaining a tight bubble, face masks, and restricted or no travel has become exhausting and downright depressing. Still is. I am, I will admit, as frustrated and as angry as the next person.

It is tiring, too, but what is even more tiresome are the internet conversations and social-media debates that feature on the issues that surround this pandemic — and calling them conversations and debates is, in some cases, a gross understatement, if not misleading. They are anything but. Some are decidedly outrageous, and not just in content but in language; nasty, in fact.

I understand that folks can disagree and will — and no government should go unchallenged in what it decrees. But the politics of disagreement has been decidedly unhelpful to date.

Backbench government MPs openly question and criticise their government’s policy. Not that this is anything new. We have seen this movie before in Bermuda. But is it so wrong to allow them to speak their minds and voice constituent concerns? Sometimes it has a happy ending, but not always.

As for the Opposition, well, the Opposition does what oppositions do. They see an opportunity and they seize it. Nothing new here, either.

It is all part of a familiar pattern otherwise known as the struggle for power.

Welcome to the Westminster form of government, Bermuda-style. However, we could do better if so minded. Allow me this example:

The government Covid press conferences started out as a welcome, convenient and effective means to communicate information in the form of data and responses. Big tick.

But there was always a limitation on what they could achieve over time. People have questions, some of them sensible, some of them far-fetched. But they are questions that need to be answered, publicly, for all to see and hear. The press are meant to play a role here, but they, too, have been limited in the number of questions they can ask.

There is also a limit to how much of this TV time viewers can endure.

Still, there remain questions to be asked and answers to be heard from those in authority, from those who are making decisions that are having a profound effect on our daily lives.

Party caucuses are undoubtedly pretty lively, but they are not public. Neither do they fill the vacuum.

There is a need and an opportunity here for the legislature — and I am not thinking of more debates on the motion to adjourn. There ought to be a cross-party committee of backbench MPs from both sides of the aisle, reviewing government policies and decisions, on at least a weekly basis, if not more often when necessary, when questions — and theories — can be put to those who are informing government policies and decisions. There would also be the opportunity to call on those in the medical field who take a different view and to test their thinking by questions as well.

The overriding objective here would be to thrash out the issues in the public eye. The viewing public could also be invited to submit questions for answer. This is after all the technological age that makes this possible and feasible.

No question, the pandemic and our experience with it have exposed once again some of the weaknesses in our political system. There is time to remedy what is missing; critical time, in fact

It will mean more hard work, and heavier lifting, but that has to be more desirable than continuing to do the same old same old and expecting a different (read better) result.

Parliamentary dialogue could well prove more productive for the community than acrimonious debate, and go some way to making possible compromise and consensus. No guarantees, of course, but worth a shot, in my books.

A note of disclosure: I am vaccinated. I don’t want my government to discriminate. But I do want my government to do the best it can to protect us. This is a serious public health issue. The delta variant is no “scariant”. We can see the havoc it is wreaking elsewhere. This is literally a matter of life and death.

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Published June 24, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 23, 2021 at 3:36 pm)

Dialogue more productive than acrimonious debate

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